Rosewater is an intriguing documentary hindered by the sad fact that it is not a documentary. It would have helped if Mr. Stewart had directed the movie under a surname.
Unfortunately, the content of most news releases and reviews concerning Rosewater tell you little if anything about the film. Nearly everyone focuses on its director and few comment on the contents of the film itself. That is a pity.
Of course, the director is a guy by the name of Jon Stewart, so I suppose he is entitled to a bit of attention. He is masterful on The Daily Show and he is a political intellectual masked as a TV comedian.
Importantly, Rosewater deservedly draws attention to the plight of reporters worldwide who expose themselves to harm in order to report the truth. While this is an issue that no one should ignore, it is hardly rare in history. Think of Ernie Pyle being killed in World War II, not to mention the number of reporters who lost their lives during the Vietnam War. Mr. Stewart honors all those reporters by concentrating on those who expose themselves to harm in today’s world.
However, Rosewater plays out as a rather average re-enacted documentary. Unlike the fantastic Citizenfour, little is filmed in real-time, though Director Stewart does his best to bring actual events back to life.
In summary, Rosewater focuses on Newsweek Reporter Maziar Bahari and his arrest for terrorism in Iran following the rigged election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2008. The remainder of the film covers his 120 days of subsequent confinement, where he is held in solitary and occasionally beaten. While it is not a pretty picture, the fact is that we subjected numerous Iraqi prisoners to far worse brutal treatment at Abu Ghraib following our invasion in 2003. If you doubt that, look at the Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side (2007).
Ironically, the only thing I disliked about the film was the failure of its production team to emphasize the performance of Gael Garcia Bernal as Mr. Behari. As always, he is an engaging actor to watch in action, and you deserve to see some of his prior films. If you are interested, hunt down Y Tu Mamá También (2001), Babel (2006) and No (2012).
It may be foolish to criticize the film based on its advertising, but it is regrettable that Mr. Stewart allows himself to be the focus of attention as opposed to the performance of Mr. Bernal. Few films have ever succeeded at any level because of the attention given to the director, and that is an unfortunate fact that I hope Mr. Stewart has learned.